Self Editor On Positivity, Photoshopping, And "Feeling Fat"


Last year, Self editor Lucy Danziger drew fire for Photoshopping Kelly Clarkson. Now she’s co-written a book about women’s happiness. Yesterday, we talked to her about the book, the mag, and yes, the Kelly Clarkson Photoshop of Horrors.

While a request for a copy of The Nine Rooms of Happiness wasn’t immediately granted in time for this interview, we were able to look at an excerpt, some of which is available online.

Inspired to write the book in part by her own dissatisfaction, Danziger confessed to us, “I am very hard on myself. If there’s a mess anywhere, I will ruminate on that.” In the book, she expands on this, writing that small issues — “family squabbles, friend tensions, job uncertainty, body-image issues” — have the potential to “grow into full scale issues because we’ve allowed them to persist and take over our lives.” But fear not: Nine Rooms posits that ladies can avoid this pratfall by looking at issues through “the metaphor of a house.” She writes, “The bedroom represents sex and relationships; the living room is for friendships and social life; the office is where you deal with your career and work issues; the kitchen is for household matters. And so on throughout the house.”

The point, for Danziger, is that we make our own happiness. When I asked her whether books about happiness were a luxury for the already-comfortable, she responded with what’s rapidly becoming conventional wisdom — that 50% of happiness is genetic, 10% is dictated by life circumstances, and 40% is under our control. She says,

Our book is not for someone who is literally living on the edge and unable to sustain themselves, or has some disastrous health crisis. Once your basic needs are met, happiness is an every-person’s problem. […] We all think ‘Oh, if we only made more money, had a bigger apartment or whatever, we’d be happier.’ But in fact that’s simply not true, and striving for that can be counterproductive. And so in our book, we talk about the 40% you can control, that’s not set point or circumstances of life. That 40% is really the key. And so much of that is determined by how you approach circumstances.

She says her thoughts on women’s happiness grew directly out of her work with SELF, and when I asked her how SELF might help women struggling with body-image concerns (these are located in the “bathroom” area of one’s Happiness House – seriously), she responded, “I honestly want everybody to feel like you can appreciate the body you have, and treat it right, and do the right thing health-wise.” As well-meaning and sound as this may be, she chose to illustrate her point with a weight-related premise:

Sometimes you think a negative thought. As long as you then take positive action from that, that’s really the point. So if you sit there and you weigh yourself or you look in the mirror and you feel like you’ve gained a couple of pounds, or you feel fat, if that’s your spark to do the right thing, to take the SELF Challenge, or go for a run, or skip dessert, or whatever it is, then that little negative thought can spark good, positive behavior, and that’s really what we’re trying to help women with.

While she acknowledged that such negative thoughts might come from comparing oneself to other women, Danziger also lays the responsibility for such reactions on women themselves. Of SELF’s Photoshopping of Kelly Clarkson, she says,

We’re not trying to trick anyone, we’re really trying to present a very well-balanced view of women today. So in that sense, I was very open about what we did, and the criticism was what it was. But in truth, I want women to understand that when they look at an image, whether its a glossy magazine or any other image out there in the media, the image is one thing, but how you react to it is another thing. I want women to have the strength and confidence to say, ‘I wanna do whats right for my body.’

This is good advice, but it’s strange coming from someone who controls, if not women’s reactions, at least the images to which they’re reacting. Sure, a good goal for all of us would be to remain unaffected by unrealistic imagery, but we might be less affected if there were less of this imagery out there in the first place. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to ask any one publication to lead the way. However, in Nine Rooms, Danziger says, “one of the strategies we talk about is being authentic.”

Alas, SELF‘s not yet nailed the authenticity factor — no mainstream women’s magazine really has. But my talk with Danziger made me want to issue my own SELF Challenge to Danziger: If you really want to help women be happier, put out a publication with real, unretouched photos. And promote a vision of health and well-being that doesn’t rely on the “spark” of “feeling fat.”

Welcome To The Nine Rooms Of Happiness… [SELF]
The Nine Rooms Of Happiness: Loving Yourself, Finding Your Purpose, And Getting Over Life’s Little Imperfections

Earlier: Self Editors Explain Covers Aren’t Supposed To Look Realistic
Self Editor Says Photoshopped Covers Capture “Essence Of You At Your Best”
Self Editor: Photoshopped Mags Just Giving Women What They Want
Readers Not That Into Self‘s Pseudo-Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson Slimmed Down On Self Via Photoshop

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